How To Landscape Over Sand: 3 Important Factors

landscaper working on a patio over sand

If you live near the beach you might find yourself considering how to landscape over sand. You may have done a bunch of research and still you haven’t answered the question. In this article, you’ll learn a couple of methods. Of course the caveat we always have to include, these methods will depend on your environment.

3 How To Landscape Over Sand Questions

When you plan your landscape with sand there are some considerations which need to be addressed. Ask these questions before you choose your landscaping method.  


What are the regulations?  When doing anything near the beach there is almost always a government agency or ten with something to say about it.  Noncompliance can bring on massive headaches and tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs to bring your property back into compliance if you ignore them.  Check with your local building department to start. Then, get a referral to a civil engineer and/or a landscape architect to help you through the permitting process if necessary.

Groundwater Depth

You need to determine how deep is your groundwater.  Often when landscaping near the beach or an intercostal waterway, the groundwater is near the surface of the sand.  If you don’t have enough room for tree root balls before hitting groundwater, that’ll impact what you plant. You may need to introduce some mounding at the trees.

Plant Options

Finally, what plants are available in your area?  Go to some local nurseries to start. Find out what plants in your area are salt tolerant. This is assuming that you are in fact near the ocean.  Also ask which can be planted in a small amount of topsoil. Additionally, specify which can be planted in the sand directly.

Additional Considerations

Often when building near the ocean or an intercostal waterway, you can run into more rules. There will be regulations related to dune protection or a setback within which you cannot plant non-native species or introduce topsoil.  If that is the case, you will need to use only the native plants you can plant directly into sand like beach grasses.  If you are in Florida, maybe you’ll consider planting some sea grapes or one of the native palms. There are numerous options even when you are limited to sand tolerant plants.

When you are able to add topsoil, it’s important to build up a layer of soil deep enough to provide your perennials, shrubs and trees some growing depth. This depth will be highly dependent on where you live. Generally, this will be a minimum of 6” thick of topsoil. Then there will be more soil placed at the tree root ball areas.  This is highly dependent on location and plant matter you’ve selected. It’s important to be sure you know what you’re planting. You should also be aware of what the requirements are. Finally, understand the irrigation recommendations when planted in well draining soil.  

small backyard design showing how to landscape over sand

How To Landscape Over Sand Common Problems

One of the major issues with sand is that water drains right through it.  One of the ways to combat this is to have some clays and organics mixed into the soils. Therefore, there’s the ability for the soil to hold water and stay damp for a time after it rains.  With sand the water drains right through and into the water table.  This will often mean your irrigation system will need to be adjusted. Run it more often to keep your plants alive.  Because of this, it’s often recommended to stick with native species. This will be able to live in the sand instead of trying to landscape over sand.